Aggression against Afrin shows that Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is the Hitler of the Middle East
The saying that “the Kurds have no friends but the mountains” is based on the bitter experience of almost 100 years of oppression.
In the aftermath of World War I, the Kurds found themselves without a state, without even autonomy, and were deprived of the linguistic and cultural rights they were promised by the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne. Since then, the Turkish state’s oppression has never ceased. The latest manifestation of this criminal oppression is the invasion of the mainly Kurdish canton of Afrin in northern Syria by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s armed forces and their Islamist allies. We cannot once again let the Kurds down and allow this brazen aggression to continue.
Erdoğan is an out-of-control despot in charge of what has become a rogue state. Although some commentators talk coyly of his “authoritarian tendencies”, Erdoğan is properly described as a fascist dictator.
He has used the failed coup by disgruntled military officers in July 2016 as a pretext to eliminate almost all traces of democratic opposition within Turkey. Tens of thousands of opponents with no connection whatsoever to the coup have been imprisoned, and many subjected to ill-treatment and torture. There are periodic waves of show trials. The education system has been purged, with anyone suspected of opposition sacked and replaced with pliant Islamists. Turkey no longer has anything resembling a free press, and is now ranked at 155 on the international index of press freedom. According to Reporters Without Borders,
The authorities have used their fight against “terrorism” as grounds for an unprecedented purge. A state of emergency has allowed them to eliminate dozens of media outlets at the stroke of a pen, reducing pluralism to a handful of low-circulation publications. Dozens of journalists have been imprisoned without trial, turning Turkey into the world’s biggest prison for media personnel. Those still free are exposed to other forms of arbitrary treatment including waves of trials.
Although Turkish democrats, independent reporters, academics, socialists, feminists, and other secular opponents of the regime have been targeted, the country’s large and unassimilable Kurdish minority has been singled out for particularly brutal repression. The leaders of the pro-Kurdish leftist HDP party have been arrested for allegedly supporting “terrorism”. Kurdish cities have been put under curfew and bombarded by Erdoğan’s security forces.
The failed coup has allowed Erdoğan to label anyone who speaks out against him as a terrorist or a supporter of terrorism: it was Erdoğan’s Reichstag Fire, and the historical parallels with fascism do not stop there. The Kurds are to Erdoğan what the Jews were to the Nazis. Erdoğan, like every Turkish ruler since Kemal Atatürk, is a Kurdophobe determined to create an ethnically-homogeneous Turkish state in denial of the cultural mosaic of the Middle East of which Turkey is a part.
The Kurds have suffered physical and cultural genocide at the hands of every Turkish regime since Kemal Atatürk. They were forbidden to speak their language. Children could not be given Kurdish names.
Kurdish customs and ceremonies were banned. In official parlance, they were “Mountain Turks” and not a separate people. When they revolted, their uprisings were drowned in blood. As an Islamist dictator, President Erdoğan abhors the Kurds for their secularism and their commitment to women’s rights, multiculturalism, and grassroots democracy. And for their dogged determination to be nothing less than Kurds. The same repressive pattern has been repeated to a greater or lesser extent in all of the other Middle Eastern states where the Kurds are found. This is exemplified by the official designation of Syria as an “Arab Republic”, despite the existence of large minorities of Kurds, Assyrians, Turkmen, Yazidi Kurds and so on.
If Erdoğan had his Reichstag Fire event in 2016, his justification for the current invasion of Afrin in northern Syria is eerily reminiscent of the excuses used by the Nazis to justify their invasion of Poland in 1939. For instance, the Nazis staged a raid on a German radio station near the border, dressing concentration camp inmates in Polish uniforms and shooting them in the face to prevent identification. In a similar vein, Erdoğan claims that the invasion of Afrin was staged not just against the Kurdish YPG fighters, but also against Islamic State!
This claim beggars belief.
The Syrian Kurds have proved to be the most consistent and effective foes of ISIS. ISIS, as is well-known, swept across Iraq and Syria like a bloody plague. They were first defeated by the Kurds at Kobane on the border with Turkey, and then put to flight by the men and women fighters of the YPG and YPJ. Last year, Kurdish-led forces liberated Raqqa, the “capital” of the so-called Islamic State and ended a nightmare. It was also the YPG and the PKK that rescued tens of thousands of Yazidis from genocide and slavery at the hands of ISIS.
The Turkish government, which laughably claims to have invaded Afrin to flush out ISIS forces in the Orwellian-sounding “Operation Olive Branch”, has long been in cahoots with those self-same terrorists. They provided ISIS fighters with hospital facilities, allowed them to recruit and ferry terrorists on Turkish soil, and clandestinely supplied the black-clad thugs with weapons and intelligence. At the same time, they denied reinforcements and weapons to the Kurdish defenders at Kobane and indeed barracked for an ISIS victory. Turkish journalists who blew the whistle on their government’s complicity suffered harsh reprisals. There is no doubt whatsoever that Erdoğan wants the Islamists to win in Syria. Indeed his invading forces in Afrin are backed by Islamist gangs, which include Al-Nusra, the former Syrian arm of Al-Qaida, the organization responsible for 9/11 and numerous other atrocities. Witnesses have heard these types boast that they will kill all the Kurds in Afrin.
Erdoğan has also invaded to divert the Turkish public’s attention from renewed evidence of gross corruption on his part and on those of his family and his cronies in his so-called Justice and Development Party. By any standards, Erdoğan is a rich man. His personal fortune, which has been estimated at over US$200 million, cannot possibly have been made by honest means. His son Bilal has become a byword for corruption and made a personal fortune selling and transporting oil for ISIS on the international black market.
Late last year, the Turkish Foreign Minister, Mevlüt Çavušğlu, rightly condemned the Trump administration’s decision to relocate its Israel embassy to Jerusalem in the face of the world’s outrage. Çavušğlu declared that: “The world has changed. The belief that ‘I am strong therefore I am right’ has changed. The world today is revolting against injustices”. Sadly, none of the world’s so-called leaders have thrown his words back in his face, and pointed out the monstrous injustice of what his government is doing to the Kurds. For his part, Çavušğlu has threatened to treat France as an accomplice of terrorism if it brings the Afrin invasion to the attention of the UN Security Council.
As usual, the world prefers to look the other way. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson wrung his hands and asked both sides in the Afrin invasion to “exercise restraint”, in much the same way that Neville Chamberlain dithered when Adolf Hitler was monstering the peoples of Central Europe. There is no equivalence as Tillerson implies: perhaps he would offer the same advice to the victims of rapings and muggings in an American street? Boris Johnson, the British foreign minister, confirmed the Kurds’ belief that their only friends are the mountains when he conceded that while the YPG had played an important part in crushing ISIS, Erdoğan had a right to secure his frontiers! No doubt in the back of the ineffable Johnson’s mind was the lucrative contract he recently secured to supply British-made fighter bombers to Erdoğan’s air force. As for Australia’s prime minister, foreign minister, and minister of defence, they resemble nothing so much as the three wise monkeys: they see, speak, and hear no evil about Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Indeed, the Australian government continues to classify the Kurdish guerrillas of the PKK as a terrorist organisation—a label applied at Erdoğan’s request—despite the fact that they have never posed a threat to this country.
Turkey, on the other hand, has proven itself to be a terrorist state. With his neo-Ottoman designs on Turkish hegemony over the Middle East, President Erdoğan is a menace to any attempt to broker a lasting peace in the region. While we should not make any excuses for the Syrian dictator Bashar Al Assad, the Islamist thugs Erdoğan promotes are equally vile. Short of massacring every last Kurdish man, woman and child, he will never succeed in his vision of an ethnically-pure Turkish state in a Turkish-dominated region. He has also crushed any semblance of democracy in his own country. If the Turnbull government had even one ounce of courage and compassion, it would move to condemn the aggression against Afrin in the United Nations, call for the immediate and complete withdrawal of Turkish forces and their proxies, and support sanctions against them if they refused to comply. Appeasing Erdoğan will only encourage him to commit further outrages, and the Middle East cannot begin to grope towards peace until he is treated as a moral pariah. If, as is probably the case, the world’s government’s choose to ignore his outrages, perhaps we might start to think of a people’s boycott of Turkey in the same way that we sent the apartheid regime in South Africa to Coventry—don’t holiday there, refuse to buy their goods, and refrain from all academic and cultural contact.
Erdoğan has shown in word and deed that he is the Hitler of the Middle East; that he is the enemy of democracy; a racist, a chauvinist, an obscurantist, and a war-monger who is deeply personally corrupt.
The Kurds, on the other hand, have shown themselves to be a beacon of hope in that blighted region. Their blueprint for a multicultural society, with grassroots democracy and respect for women is a model that could enable peace and progress in Syria and elsewhere in that diverse region. Let’s not let them down again.
*Professor John Tully is Honorary Professor/Educator PhD, College of Arts, Victoria University, Melbourne. He lives in Bronte Park. His recent publications include: The Devil’s Milk: A Social History of Rubber (2011); Silvertown: The Lost Story of a Strike (2014); Robbed of Every Blessing (2015); Crooked Deals and Broken Treaties: How American Indians Were Displaced by White Settlers in the Cuyahoga Valley (2015).